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Reform Magazine | June 24, 2017

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On the pilgrim way: “I felt quite guilty about Lent this year”

maxeyLent seemed to pass me by this year, and I felt quite guilty about it. I would be leading worship on Easter Sunday, and the saying “no cross, no crown,” came to mind. Instead, my Lent was full of family celebrations.

On an amazingly warm Saturday early in March, eight of us celebrated the 25th birthday of our great niece, L, with a barbecue outside her father’s rather run-down cottage. L’s brother had flown over from Berlin for the occasion; her mother had prepared the food; her father did the barbecue, and the happy group photos suggest an ordinary family occasion. But L’s parents separated when she was a baby; there is a lot of water under that bridge, and neither has ever married. Being surrounded that day by the love of her family was her best present.

A week later, our daughter, Ruth, invited all her favourite people, family and friends, to celebrate her 50th birthday in a hostel in the country. It seemed her whole life was spread out there – the friend she started school with, the young man she fell in love with when she was 15, her close college friends, of course, her brother and sisters and cousins – and then the next generation (15 children in all). We danced to the music of our bonfire parties of Ruth’s teenage years, and, although there was lots of laughter, there were tears too – especially on my part!

I don’t think I wept because those years have gone for good. I think I wept at the open expressions of love which we so rarely risk. Our daughter, Mary, sang a song to Ruth, acknowledging they grew up “friend and foe” and remembering “all the reasons why I love her”. Ruth’s brother, Peter, got us all singing “Love life, as it loves you; shine your beauty in all you do.”

Then, in late March, we spent a few days near Amsterdam deliberately renewing contacts with my husband’s Dutch family. For Kees, my husband, it was quite a nostalgic journey: The crossing from Harwich to the Hook which he remembers from Christmas 1945, and many times after that; the flat land crisscrossed by water and the thousands of bicycles. But it was much more than that. Time does not stand still and his cousin, Piet, and his wife were much frailer. Kees had invited his generation and their children to a dinner – there were 10 of us. Unwittingly, he was bringing together family members who rarely met and were even a little estranged. Around the table the atmosphere grew warmer and warmer. The wife of a cousin (a Reformed minister) whispered to me: “You have done some healing through this dinner.”

A minister friend, commenting on my guilt about Lent, said he thought that when Jesus took up his cross, he was wholeheartedly embracing the human condition – and that is what we are called to do. Perhaps those celebrations, after all, did some of that.

Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform

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This article was published in the May 2015 edition of Reform.

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